I, Daniel Blake

500 Days Of Film Reviews Social Realist Drama, I, Daniel Blake, Starring Dave Johns and Hayley Squires

After suffering a heart attack, Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) needs help from the State. A joiner for most of his life in the North East of England, doctors have warned against his return to work. However, following a health benefits assessment, Daniel finds himself ineligible for financial aid.

 

Lost in the labyrinthine world of welfare bureaucracy, Daniel meets single mother Katie and her two young children, Daisy and Dylan. After living in London for two years in a one roomed homeless hostel, Katie has had to accept a flat in Newcastle - 300 miles away from her family.

 

Daniel and Katie strike up a friendship as, failed by the system and hopelessly entangled by red tape, they struggle to survive.

Is It Any Good?

There is little subtlety in director, Ken Loach’s, Palme d’Or winning film, I, Daniel Blake. We hear the message loud and clear. Britain’s welfare system is failing those that need it most - and it is truly heartbreaking to watch.

 

Loach’s film begins with Daniel’s benefits assessment. We don’t see him or his ‘computer says no’ health specialist, we just hear her ridiculous questions and his increasingly exasperated answers. This opening scene is funny - laugh out loud funny. 

 

I was surprised, given the subject matter, at how much I laughed during I, Daniel Blake. The film features many funny moments - delivered with perfect comic timing by actor and stand-up comedian, Dave Johns. His is a truly superb and deeply moving performance.

 

As a result, we find ourselves rooting for Daniel and his, often inspirational, battle against a broken and dehumanizing welfare system.   

   

 

Meanwhile, Katie’s story is equally important in I, Daniel Blake and Hayley Squires is a revelation in this role. She has to convey many of the film’s most heartbreakingly powerful scenes, knocking them out of the park every single time.

 

I couldn’t hide my tears as I watched Katie struggle at the foodbank - a scene made even more poignant by the fact that this is actually happening in Britain today. 

 

Loach’s longtime collaborator, Paul Laverty, meticulously researched his script - conducting a series of interviews with real people caught in the benefits system. For far too many the scenes in I, Daniel Blake are fact, not fiction.

 

 

Many critics have viewed I, Daniel Blake as a companion piece to Loach’s Cathy Come Home. This 1966 film, charting a family’s descent into homelessness, prompted a parliamentary debate and an increase in social housing.

 

However, in an interview with The Guardian, Loach, who came out of retirement to make this movie, predicts that people will not be as moved by his latest film. He believes that audiences will accept Daniel and Katie’s situation as ‘normal’. 

 

This was not my experience of I, Daniel Blake. I emerged from the screening stunned, devastated and determined to do something to help - in whatever small way I can.

 

I believe that, thanks to phenomenal directors such as Ken Loach, films can change the world. Awards are all well and good, but I, Daniel Blake demands real social change.

 

Random Observations

I, Daniel Blake won the top prize, the Palme d’or, at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. This is the second time Ken Loach has won this award - the first was for his 2006 film, The Wind That Shakes The Barley.

 

I watched I, Daniel Blake at an Odeon Screen Unseen event. Despite the (fairly) obvious clues, many audience members were hoping to see Doctor Strange. As a result, when Loach’s film started, there were a few disgruntled mutterings and a scattering of walk-outs. 

 

The lady sitting next to me immediately complained that she didn’t know if she could “sit through this”. However, despite grabbing her coat and bag, sit through it she did - and she was visibly moved by the end.  

 

Have you seen I, Daniel Blake?

 

If you have, what did you think about Ken Loach’s film? Do let me know - leave me a comment in the box below.

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